Death in the Baja: A San Amaro Mystery
by MJ Ross
Meerschaum Press

"The desert is a vicious environment, not one to be taken lightly."

Stella Monroe, a retiree living in fictional San Amaro, Mexico, goes missing during a desert hike with friends. Sergeant Julia Garcia takes the case, which transforms from a simple search-and-rescue into a complicated international murder investigation. Julia and her team have an arduous job trying to solve this case, which seems to continually raise more questions than answers. After all, who would want to kill Stella, a kind former schoolteacher who volunteered at a local dog rescue? Unknown inheritances, backstabbing private detectives, poached endangered species, cartels, car theft, abusive exes, and more await as Julia discovers that everyone involved in Stella's life has some hidden agenda. Julia must piece together all the secrets she unearths in this seemingly quiet community to find out what really happened on that hike.

Ross has constructed a riveting mystery. She skillfully builds tension and suspense slowly, even while the action in the narrative moves along swiftly. The events in the book unfold over the course of two fast-paced weeks, with flashbacks that give insight into the characters' behaviors and backgrounds before they arrive at a shocking yet satisfying conclusion. Ross' characters are well-rounded and engaging. Details like Molly's color sense or Rob's beloved lizard help make major characters feel real and keep minor characters from fading into the background. The novel's setting is almost a character itself, as Ross perfectly captures the beauty and the danger of the Baja desert with the loving attention of a nature writer. She portrays the region's people and culture with interest and respect. Readers will enjoy—and learn from—this page-turning thriller and will undoubtedly look forward to Ross's future San Amaro mysteries.

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